A month-by-month look at Phil Hughes

Feliciano close to appearing in minor league rehab games
Josh Norris & Mike Ashmore interview Mark Newman
(REUTERS/Rebecca Cook)

This has been a very … unique season for Phil Hughes. I really don’t know how else to describe it. The 26-year-old right-hander is coming off a disastrous and injury-plagued 2011 campaign, one that spurred him to (finally?) take his conditioning more seriously during the winter. Hughes looked like the best Yankees’ pitcher in Spring Training by no small margin, but he opened the season with a dud April before settling into a grove in May.

Since the calendar has flipped over to May, Phil has pitched to a 3.58 ERA (4.44 FIP) in 18 starts and 115.2 innings. The elephant in the room is his propensity to give up the long ball, though he’s managed to curtail that ever so slightly as the season has progressed. Still, I (and I’m sure many of you) get uncomfortable watching his starts — especially close games — just because I know a homerun could be coming at any moment. It’s a very uneasy feeling, like you’re watching a game while walking on eggshells or something.

Anyway, Hughes had one of his worst starts in quite some time last night, laboring particularly in the fourth and fifth innings. It was the first time he allowed more than three earned runs in a start since late-June and in 34 starts since coming off the DL last year, he’s allowed more than two earned runs just 12 times. That’s getting the job done, but I do want to focus on this year and not so much last year. Here is a month-by-month breakdown of Phil’s core statistics…

April 81 7.88 6.52 73.7% 14.5% 11.8% 21.0% 7.4% 8.9% 8.0%
May 157 4.66 4.47 67.8% 20.9% 11.3% 20.4% 4.5% 6.0% 7.7%
June 132 2.67 4.59 73.0% 20.4% 6.6% 24.2% 6.1% 7.6% 9.4%
July 141 3.09 4.51 64.6% 28.9% 6.5% 18.4% 5.7% 5.6% 9.5%
August 49 1.35 3.95 71.3% 21.5% 7.2% 10.2% 4.1% 2.4% 6.7%
2012 560 4.10 4.72 69.4% 21.8% 8.8% 20.0% 5.5% 6.3% 8.5%

HR/CON is homers per plate appearances with contact, so HR/(TBF-BB-K-HBP). That’s a far more accurate way to measure a pitcher’s ability to limit dingers than something like regular old HR/9. The AL average this season is 4.0% HR/CON.

Other that the decision to essentially cut his changeup usage in half at the outset of June, Hughes hasn’t changed his pitch selection much this season. His walk rate has dropped considerably since April and as I mentioned this morning, the strikeout rate has been trending downward a bit as well outside of that June spike (interleague play!). Obviously the August numbers are a tiny two-start sample, so don’t spend too much time focusing on them. The progress in the homerun department is encouraging, but again we’re still talking about someone giving up dingers at ~150% of the league average rate. At least it’s not almost 230% like it was in April.

Other than the homers, my one big concern going forward is durability. I don’t mean injuries or anything like that, I’m talking about Hughes getting fatigued down the stretch. He threw just 91 total innings last year (Majors plus minors plus playoffs) and is already at 131.2 innings this year. This is only the third time in his career that Hughes has exceeded the 130-inning plateau, joining 2006 (146 IP) and 2010 (192 IP). Coming off the shoulder issue last year, I think it’s fair to be concerned about his ability to remain effective through the end of the regular season and into the postseason. For what it’s worth, his fastball velocity has held relatively steady so far this summer, though that isn’t exactly definitive proof of anything.

Assuming the Yankees get their collective heads out of their behinds at some point and get back to winning games consistently, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give Hughes a little rest in September. Maybe skip a start or two just for a late-season breather. Of course that depends on Andy Pettitte coming back healthy and Ivan Nova not pitching like one of the least effective hurlers in the league. The Yankees showed a little faith in Hughes by installing him as the number three starter and they remained patient through April, and for the most part he has rewarded them with three strong months at midseason. Staying effective through the end of the season and potentially into the playoffs is the next challenge.

Feliciano close to appearing in minor league rehab games
Josh Norris & Mike Ashmore interview Mark Newman
  • Seth

    Phil’s problem is his lack of an ability to miss bats. Wouldn’t it be wise to try and incorporate a 2-seamer or a slider into his arsenal? That will significantly cut down on his pitches thrown, which is a bigger concern than his innings I would think.

    • http://thecarsboneblog.tumblr.com Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

      His Whiff% and K% seem to disagree with your overall point. He used to throw a slider when he was in the low minors (like 5 years ago) but they decided it put too much strain on his elbow, and it wasn’t worth the risk, so they had him develop his curve.

      • http://thecarsboneblog.tumblr.com Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

        I do think Philbert could do with developing another pitch though. Whether it be a split, or a “spike curve” or “knuckle curve” or just something, because his change up isn’t that effective at all and another pitch could be used to offset it’s uselessness. That’s an offseason/side session kind of thing though he shouldn’t just tomorrow decide I’m going to throw 4% of a pitch I’ve never thrown before.

        • jjyank

          I agree with the concept, but doesn’t he already have 2 curves?

          • http://thecarsboneblog.tumblr.com Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

            Idk, I haven’t actually ‘seen’ any of Phil’s starts this season. Just heard them, and broadcasters/Game Day don’t differentiate between curves.

            • jjyank

              I’ve noticed it a couple times. And I know he’s talked about it himself, so I am inclined to believe that’s true.

              I’m not sure what the solution is. Maybe a two-seamer? The cutter didn’t work out, but maybe the same concept with a different grip? I dunno, just spit-balling.

              • http://thecarsboneblog.tumblr.com Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

                A two seamer that runs away to lefties might work, but I feel like that’s a pitch that gets fouled off/hit on the ground a lot. He needs a more swing-through pitch. Who knows, I’m sure they’ve tried everything we’ve mentioned already behind closed doors.

                • YanksFanInBeantown

                  Getting more grounders isn’t a bad thing though.

                  • http://thecarsboneblog.tumblr.com Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

                    As long as they’re in play they’re great. My fear is that it’ll lead to even more foul tips.

          • The DonSlaught

            He has one curve that is more 12-6 and one than is more 3-7 – more a slurve.

  • The DonSlaught

    When I read the title, I instantly started thinking “A Month by Month look at your 401k”

    I’m also shocked at how similar Phil’s xFIP is to my 401k.

  • rek4gehrig

    Why was Joba pitching anywayz? Where was DRob?


    Phil’s struggles with putting people away can be frustrating, but it is amazing that he is 0-2, 1-2 on just about everyone. Maybe he needs a little better command of his pitches, a little more break on the curve or using the change more. Whatever it is I think he’ll figure it out. He’s close to being really good.

    • http://thecarsboneblog.tumblr.com Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

      NOOO the last thing Phil needs to do is use the change more. Look at the graphic. The month he threw the change the most he pitched his worst (April) and the months he’s pitched his best (June and July) he’s thrown less change-ups. It’s like his cutter, either scrap it or use it as a show me pitch.

      • NYYROC

        I think that part of the chart is misleading. He was bad in April for a # of reasons but mostly, as I’ve read, because of the cutter. It is a coincidence that he was also using the CU a lot at the same time. IMO his change is a decent pitch. It helps vs LHB.

  • Robert

    Put Freddy or Hughes in the Pen and put Phelps in the rotation.When is the oldest team in Baseball going to take a chance on some youth!!!!

    • jjyank

      Hughes is old?

      • http://thecarsboneblog.tumblr.com Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

        Better question: Leave Nova in the rotation over Hughes?

    • blake

      Phelps is a whole 4 months younger than Hughes is

    • YanksFanInBeantown

      Phelps is 4 months younger than Hughes…

      and I’ll take this year over 2008 8 days a week.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      People are responding? This is a real opinion?

  • JoeyA

    This probably belongs in the “thoughts” thread, but…

    Every concern the “NYY rely on too much on HR’s” fans had are manifesting themselves with the play of this team after the ASB.

    They have a hard time getting that one run in. Granderson, Tex are just basically boom or bust.

    Yes, they strung together a run of .780 baseball, which was obviously a high for this team and included scoring in every which way imaginable.

    Now, as we all expected, comes the low.

    And with this team, and how they slump given each player’s skillset, it is always a long drawn-out slump. So, it seems, NYY need to hope for another .780 run during the latter part of Sept. into Oct. or it’s a one and done this season because…

    …As we’ve all seen, the teams play now is exactly how they’ve played Oct the last few years.

    You can cherry pick all the stats to diprove my opinion if you want, but every postseason they either put a run or 2 on the board early and than go flat, or get shut out until the 7th when, in a 5 run game, they hit a 2 run HR

    Sorry, this is me essentially ranting during my day at work.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      What exactly is your point? That they need to finish the season red hot going into the playoff in order to compete?

      Baseball is a long season. No team is as good as it is when it’s at it’s best, nor are they as bad as they appear while at their worst. Sure, it would be nice to get things going rolling into October, but check out 2000.

      Also, they postseason thing doesn’t make a ton of sense. Many games are not like that. Sure, some are, but that’s just baseball.

      • jjyank

        This is my take on the situation as well.

  • DM

    I’d be more inclined to give Kuroda a blow if possible than Hughes. Phil still has pitched less innings than the other regular starters (even less than CC despite Hughes starting 3 more games). Another challenge for Phil (and his ardent supporters) is to get away from special handling and just letting him pitch — whether it’s finishing a full season for once or letting him try to retire a tough hitter in a big spot late in a game. He’s 26 and was pronounced healthy this year — so let him go — and worry more about resting older veterans with a lot more mileage on their arms.

    • http://thecarsboneblog.tumblr.com Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

      Kuroda is uber-durable. Hughes the same thing cannot be said.

      • DM

        He’s 37, and your #2 starter in a post-season scenario, and is on pace to pitch more innings than he ever has. He’s only pitched more than 200 innings once in the states.

        • http://thecarsboneblog.tumblr.com Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

          Two other years he’s thrown 180. He’s also shown no signs of being tired, or said he’s tired. If he looked like he was throwing on fumes, or we had 15 game lead I’d agree with you. However, with a <10 game lead and the team not playing (or pitching) well of late I think we need to run Kuroda out there every 5 days.

          • DM

            I said “if possible” over Hughes — meaning if the standings allow you. No one will be rested if things are tight in Sept.

            And the point of pitching Hughes is to find out what he really is over a season. That’s part of development — stretching and growing. Maybe he can learn to get outs (like Kuroda) when he doesn’t have his best stuff. You’ll need to pitch in the dog days of August/Sept with fatigue to be a starter in the big leagues.

        • YanksFanInBeantown

          Phil Hughes is 26 and your #3 or 4 starter in a post-season scenario and is on pace to pitch more innings than he ever has. He’s only pitched more than 150 innings once in his life.

          • DM

            Right. He’s 26 (not 37) and he’s your 3 or 4 starter (not your #2, and I’d say 4th at best if Pettitte is fine). Why would anyone contest stretching a 26 yr old? You’re gonna cap him at that age? I figure you’d want him to hit that 32/33 start 200+ inning mark. Isn’t that part of a young but maturing pitcher’s development? Why the reluctance to take the training wheels completely off with Phil? CC already had a leg issue along with a ton of innings on his arm — not a peep. Nova was pulled from a post-season start with a forearm issue and is on pace for an innings high too — not a peep. Kuroda’s gonna break his high in innings before being leaned on in the post-season — not a peep.

            From early in the off-season, Hughes was pronounced all good, ready to go, and no more innings limits — so let him go and see what you have. He should be closer to the bottom of the get him “a little rest” list than the top. If Phil keeps up his current pace for 10 of the remaining 53 starts, he still doesn’t crack 200 innings, and would only pitch 15-20 innings more than his high.

            • YanksFanInBeantown

              I’m just leery about another “Verducci Effect” year if they aren’t careful.

              • DM

                I understand the concept and the fear. But I don’t know if you can take to the point of never stretching and pushing development a little further — and little further beyond that. No one can pitch 200 innings in the minors, so you can only get there by increasing innings in the bigs. And in the short-term, I more concerned about preserving Kuroda. I think we’ve squeezed a lot out of him already, and I don’t want him to run dry just in time for the post-season.

  • blake

    I really think Hughes just got gassed last night….he looked good early…was locating his fastball great and then Boesch put those long AB’s on him and killed him….as Mike said in his recap post Hughes through like 60 pitches within a 15-20 minute period….

    • http://thecarsboneblog.tumblr.com Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

      Yeah, I commented in the recap…after that long bottom of the 4th he had maybe 6 minutes to relax before he was out there again throwing his warm ups for the 5th. At that point I knew disaster was going to strike. It’s hard to be effective when that happens.

      • blake

        I still like the direction he’s trending to be honest….I don’t think he’ll ever be a #1 starter…he just doesn’t have the secondary stuff….but I do think he could settle in a solid mid rotation guy with maybe Matt Garza like upside…..and that’s really valuable.

        The biggest problem for the Yankees is that he’s only got a year of control left….so they have to decide what to do with him pretty soon.

        • http://thecarsboneblog.tumblr.com Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

          I agree, he just had an off night last night and it was compounded by a tight strike zone, a good offense on the other side and some poor timing by our offense. He’s been very good since May and I see no reason as to why that can’t continue. I’ve got a very Bullish outlook on Hughes after the last few months.

  • http://cinemademocratica.com Dave in Gainesville

    I watched last night’s game very, *very* carefully — and it looks to me like Phil Hughes’ problem right now isn’t so much velocity or control or nasty-factor, as much as scouting. Lately batters have just seemed to know his patterns: Let him get to 0-and-2 or 1-and-2, foul off his tight four-seam fastball out pitch, then park the bat on your shoulder while Hughes throws two or three out-of-the-zone pitches in a row hoping you’ll swing at them. Lately it happens over and over again, and while that may be a pretty unscientific observation, it takes on a certain significance when I’m able to sit in front of my computer monitor last night predicting what the Tigers batters were going to do before-the-fact. He needs another pitch like a 2-seam fastball or a slurve, or at the very least he needs to pitch some people backward from time to time. Being able to sit in my living room and say, out loud, “Now this guy is going to take the next two pitches and it’ll be three-and-two” is getting really, *really* old, over here.

    • Kosmo

      Hughes has been very successful since May. His clinker came as did Nova´s at an inopportune moment. I thnk just leaving him alone and examining his season post-mortem is the way to go. He can learn other pitches, for instance the splitter, but it´s hard to tinker with stuff now that 2/3 the season is over.

  • Jose M. Vazquez

    So his HR/CON at 6.3% is higher than league average. That is a fine way to present HR/9. I had never seen that stat but when presented with the formula one can always reproduce the results. As I said yesterday, all he needs is a good put away pitch. A splitter or a circle change will do the trick but it is too late in the season to try in my opinion.

  • Ben

    What does it say that his whiff% had gone up but his K% down?

    • JonS

      That he can’t (or is having trouble) put(ting) away hitters.

  • http://yankees.com sam

    I love this site and all that blah blah blah. But man time after time you have seemingly small mistakes that are there because you do not proof read properly or whatever it is I dont know. The mothership (ESPN) has countless editors so those mistakes don’t happen and if they do they are anomalies. Here’s your most recent mistake.
    “He threw just 91 total innings last year (Majors plus minors plus playoffs) and is already at 131.2 innings this year. This is only the third time in his career that Hughes has exceeded the 130-inning plateau, joining 2006 (146 IP) and 2011 (192 IP).”
    You see the redundancy in your post as you mention he threw just 90 innings last year and then incorrectly cite 2010’s IP as 2011? Call it nitpicking but if you do you should be disgraced with yourself. Cut this shit out… seriously. Article after article I’ll see mistakes like this and someone doing as good a job as you running such a great analytical blog should not tolerate such nonsense. Thanks, and keep up the good work (sans grammar/spelling mistakes).

    • Adam Parker

      Give this guy his money back now!